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The World Region

What a Waste: Time to Pick It Up

Dan Hoornweg's picture

What a Waste publication coverAsk any city manager or mayor what their top priority is and you’re likely to get ‘solid waste’ as an answer. You would think in today’s age we would have solved the waste management challenge and moved on to the next slightly more glamorous municipal service. Not so; and more than ever cities now need to pick it up a notch on solid waste management.

Solid waste is still probably the world’s most pressing environmental challenge. In poorer countries, solid waste can use up to more than half of a city’s overall budget; around the world there are more solid waste workers than soldiers; and despite the more than $225 billion spent every year on solid waste, in many low income countries less than half the waste is collected in cities.

Building Resilience for the Urban Poor - Let’s Get Moving

Judy Baker's picture

In the many slums I have visited in Latin America, Asia and Africa, I am always struck by the resourcefulness and resilience of residents. Slum dwellers face many hardships in their daily life – low incomes, overcrowded living conditions in high risk areas such as flood zones or steep hillsides, and limited access to clean water, sanitation, transport or solid waste services.

These challenges are only made worse by the impacts of climate change and natural hazards. Heavy rains can quickly turn into a disastrous flood as a result of insufficient or ineffective drainage.  Such flooding can destroy the limited assets of poor households, halt economic activity, contaminate water supply, lead to disease and displace residents.   With the increase in weather extremes, it is anticipated that such events will happen with recurring frequency.

Innovative Approaches Urgently Needed to Deliver Energy to Urban Poor

Nicholas Keyes's picture

Back in 2004, the electrical utility in Brazil’s biggest city had a major problem. AES Eletropaulo was losing a large proportion of its revenue due to almost half-a-million illegal connections, most of them in São Paolo’s slums. Not only that, but they were causing often multiple-house fires on a monthly basis, along with frequent electrocutions.  But the utility’s efforts to fix the problem were stymied by its poor relations with slum-dwellers, which made it almost impossible to work in these communities.

Collaborative consumption – a trend for the young, the hip, the urban

Sintana Vergara's picture

Moving from California to Washington DC, I did not expect to find revolution; but I have. Fellow city-dwellers are overthrowing old models of consumption (through which their cities became extractors and importers of natural resources and exporters of waste products) by simply changing their habits. One by one, urban citizens are choosing collaborative consumption instead, to save money, resources, and time.

Though sharing is not new – in fact, historically, people lived and consumed resources in groups – it is an innovation in the modern city. A diverse set of sharing mechanisms has sprouted – for-profit, non-profit, informal, and formal – many of which use the web to match supply and demand.

Instead of purchasing cars, consumers are using car-sharing companies (like Zipcar), which allow them to rent vehicles by the hour, or stopping by to get a ride from the Casual Carpool in San Francisco or the Slug Line in Washington DC, two informal, citizen-organized carpool sites that match car-free commuters with drivers looking to enter High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lanes and save on toll fares.

The Top Three Reasons Rio+20 Will Change the World

Maggie Comstock's picture

Rio +20 LogoThough two months away, the UN Conference on Sustainable Development’s Earth Summit, better known as Rio+20, has already been labeled vital, momentous and historic. And while delegates, students and activists have yet to arrive in Brazil, we already know that Rio+20 has the potential to be a “big deal.” It all begs the question, can the people engaging in Rio+20, in-person or remotely, really change the world? My sage and inspiration for answering this question is Margaret Mead who said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

Simply, Rio+20 is about being part of that thoughtful group committed to "getting it right" for future generations. The outcome and commitments of the Conference will affect us all, from the farmer in Iowa to the IT specialist in India, and whether you attend the conference or not, your voice can and needs to be heard.

Earth Day: Bah Humbug

Dan Hoornweg's picture

LeafI have a love-hate relationship with Earth Day (April 22nd) . The concept and enthusiasm are great; but the faux commercial interests and token personal efforts make me uneasy. True, every little bit helps, but the ‘lots of little efforts’ are still way too little, and may actually distract us from the big changes needed. 

All good ideas usually come from several sources; and once they get going, often head off in several directions. Earth Day is no exception. The first Earth Day had two sources. San Francisco, again showing that cities lead, first observed Earth Day on March 21, 1970. The idea was to help celebrate the Equinox (first day of spring in northern hemisphere). A few weeks later, a US Senator from Wisconsin, Gaylord Nelson, called for an environmental teach-in arguing: 

“I am convinced that all we need to do to bring an overwhelming insistence of the new generation that we stem the tide of environmental disaster is to present the facts clearly and dramatically.”

This is where I disagree. The facts are clear - and have been for a long time. The problem is we just don’t want to do the hard work that’s needed for any semblance of sustainability. We are very powerful procrastinators. So a few of us might as well turn off a light, or forgo the car while we wait to generate sufficient political and personal will to get on with the heavy lifting. But surely getting all these people thinking about, and working for, the environment can’t be a bad thing. Maybe it will help us act on the bigger stuff sooner.

Unlocking Global Environmental Intelligence Through The Cloud

Robert Bernard's picture

The climate, energy and resource challenges facing the planet are daunting. The world’s population continues to grow rapidly, and the majority of people now live in cities. While cities are projected to be home to nearly 70% of our population by 2050, this won’t happen unless society drives significant efficiency gains in all aspects of resource use. Leveraging information will lie at the heart of optimizing resource use.

While projections for city growth are common, we need ask ourselves a simple question -- how much longer will cities be able to service increasing demands for energy, transportation, water, and food without a wholesale transition in the way resources are managed? If we are going to accommodate billions of new urbanites, they will need energy for lights, for heating, for cooling; energy for transportation, housing and emergency services; energy for water systems and sanitation.

Celebrating Earth Month…One step at a time

Artessa Saldivar-Sali's picture

Earth Day Network logo

Happy Earth Month from the Sustainable Cities team! While Earth Day isn’t until April 22nd, we must spend some time this month to think about what this celebration of the natural environment means for us, staunch urbanites.

Like many environmental initiatives, Earth Day was actually proclaimed by a city – San Francisco, California - and the occasion was celebrated with other US cities in 1970. Earth Day went international in 1990, and now it’s celebrated in more than 175 countries every year.

A Top Ten of New Urban Businesses

Dan Hoornweg's picture

We’ve seen cafes, car sharing, cell phones, and social networking products like iPads, proliferate from the world’s rush to urbanize. So what’s next? Following is a list of top ten urban businesses that are likely to flourish over the next few years.

  1. Take Two – Tablets. Just as every television now comes with a remote control, so too will every house and apartment come with a ‘control tablet’. We’ve seen the introduction of tablets as cheap as $40 in rural India. The next push will be a clever city that provides every household with a tablet to check on municipal services, emergency announcements, entertainment, and much more. Once every household has its own tablet, the impact will be enormous. The only question now is which city and companies will take a lead. Best guesses: Kitchener, Canada; Gwangju, South Korea; Bangalore, India; Kunming, China; Rotterdam, Netherlands; Thomson Reuters; RIM; Samsung; DataWind.

What is a Smart City and How Can a City Boost Its IQ?

Maggie Comstock's picture

Earlier this month, the World Bank hosted a Smart Cities for All workshop in Washington, DC which convened experts from the United Nations, academia, government agencies, non-profits and industry. The purpose of the workshop was to share insights and experiences of equipping cities with the tools for intelligent growth. Additionally, the forum established a public-private partnership for collaboration in pursuit of shared goals for global sustainability. But what does it mean to be a “smart city”? Is this distinction only reserved for cities starting from scratch? Can an established city boost its IQ?

First, we must take a step back to reflect upon what it means to be a “smart city.” While there is no official definition, many have contributed to this debate. Industry leaders, such as Seimens and IBM, believe that stronger use of technology and data will enable government leaders to make better informed decisions. Whereas others, including the Sustainable Cities Blog’s very own Dan Hoornweg, consider the social aspects as a component of what it means to be a smart city. In his blog, “Smart Cities for Dummies,” published last November, Dan contends: “At its core a smart city is a welcoming, inclusive city, an open city. By being forthright with citizens, with clear accountability, integrity, and fair and honest measures of progress, cities get smarter.” Though I agree with both the data-driven and socially-conscious approaches, I’d like to propose my own definition of a smart city.

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